Intelligence is Irrelevant: An MIT Alum’s Advice to a Struggling StudentJanuary 9th, 2012 · 43 comments
A Reddit Gem
A reader recently sent me a link to this fascinating Reddit thread. It’s titled:”I’m not as smart as I thought I was,” and it features a high school senior worried that his intellectual abilities are lacking.
Over 700 people wrote comments in response. One of the top comments was from an MIT graduate who had struggled with and then overcame similar feelings of inadequacy when he first arrived in Cambridge.
Below, I’ve reproduced key passages from his note (edited slightly), as I think he has something important to say — for both students and graduates — about the psychological complexity of the quest to become so good they can’t ignore you…
The people who fail to graduate from MIT, fail because they come in, encounter problems that are harder than anything they’ve had to do before, and not knowing how to look for help or how to go about wrestling those problems, burn out.
The students who are successful, by contrast, look at that challenge, wrestle with feelings of inadequacy and stupidity, and then begin to take steps hiking that mountain, knowing that bruised pride is a small price to pay for getting to see the view from the top. They ask for help, they acknowledge their inadequacies. They don’t blame their lack of intelligence, they blame their lack of motivation.
During my freshman year, I almost failed out of differential equations. I was able to recover and go on to be very successful in my studies. When I was a senior, I would sit down with the freshmen in my dorm and show them the same things that had been shown to me, and I would watch them struggle with the same feelings, and overcome them. By the time I graduated MIT, I had become the person I looked up to when I first got in.
You feel like you are burnt out or that you are on the verge of burning out, but in reality you are on the verge of deciding whether or not you will burn out. It’s scary to acknowledge that it’s a decision because it puts the onus on you to to do something about it, but it’s empowering because it means there is something you can do about it.
So do it.